Sean Hanczaryk somehow knew. Despite being just shy of his 22nd birthday, he knew how to make this journey on earth special.
You see Sean had a personal motto, of sorts, that every one of us would be wise to adopt as our own. Sean encouraged us in a now two year-old Twitter post that read, “Spend ever day putting a smile on someone else’s face.”
Sean certainly did his part in that quest.
Sean died on Saturday with two of his DeSales University friends in a car accident just two miles from the school’s campus in Center Valley, Pa. He leaves behind a devastated family and a large group of heartbroken friends, teammates and coaches he touched at Delaware Valley High School, Diamond Nation and the DeSales baseball team and community.
Hanczaryk was a senior sports and exercise physiology major and a captain on the baseball team. His friends Nicholas White and Emily Katner, both 2019 DeSales grads, died in the crash as well. Baseball teammate Brandon DiChiacchio, also a senior and in the same major as Sean, was pulled from the wreckage and was in critical condition as press time.
“Sean was one of a kind,” said former Delaware Valley freshman baseball coach Chris Kulik. “Good or bad day on the field, he treated the game the same. He was a leader and a friend to all of his teammates, and made each and every one of them better.”
It would be difficult to get a better compliment from a coach.
“As a coach, you dream of having a player like Sean,” said Kulik, who worked closely with current Delaware Valley varsity coach Marty White. “Off the field, his personality and positive outlook on life made this world a better place.”
At Diamond Nation in Flemington, no one is surprised to learn about Sean’s affect on his high school and college teammates and his friends. That staff saw it first hand during his five years in the Diamond Jacks program.
“Sean has a legacy here that he is exactly what you’d want a Diamond Jack to be,” said Steve DiTrolio, a Diamond Jack coach and the program’s recruiting coordinator. “We were just talking about how Sean had a lot of the same qualities of Kevin Gilbert. Sean was a great teammate and a great player to coach. And he was always mentally involved in the game.”
Gilbert was a longtime Diamond Jack and a Hunterdon Central senior when he died in a one car accident on March 12, 2011, which, coincidentally, is exactly 10 years ago today. Gilbert was on his way to baseball practice when he crashed into a tree.
“Sean always wanted to know what he had to do to get better,” said DiTrolio. “He enjoyed those in-game conversations. We talked a lot about pitch sequencing. As a coach, you enjoyed having those conversations with Sean, knowing it impacted him. But what he didn’t know was those conversations impacted me, as well. I was learning the game, too, through his eyes.”
Tony Gsell is another outstanding hitting coach at Diamond Nation who worked with Sean over the years, both in the cages and on the field.
“Sean was a real coachable kid who always did the right thing,” said Gsell. “He was always the kid who would pick up a teammate when he needed a boost. That’s the kind of kid Sean was. We had a lot of lessons together and he worked hard to make himself a college ball player.”
Few people knew Sean Hanczaryk as well as Christian Hlinka, his childhood friend, Delaware Valley teammate and fellow Diamond Jack. Hlinka received the horrific news of Sean’s death from his dad, Vasil, early Sunday morning. Vasil and Sean’s dad, Paul Hanczaryk, coached their sons at a young age.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Hlinka. “I met Sean right after we moved into the area when I was 8 years old. We played 9U ball together. This is especially tough because our families are close. His brother, Dan, played with my younger brother. And our dads coached together.”
Dan Hanczaryk is a freshman right-handed pitcher on the DeSales baseball team and, like Sean, left the Diamond Jack program having made excellent impressions and a lasting impact. Dan went to DeSales because he wanted to play college ball with his brother.
Sean Hanczaryk, Hlinka and their friend Scott Becker made the Delaware Valley varsity as freshmen and each contributed mightily to the team’s Central Jersey, Group 2 championship in 2015.
“Sean had a big impact on us,” says Hlinka. “Sean and my dad were tight. He just put a smile on your face.”
Sharing smiles seemed to be an innate gift for which Sean had an unlimited supply. It truly was a common theme running through everyone we spoke to about Sean.
“I never saw Sean without a smile on his face,” said Diamond Jacks catching coordinator Travis Anderson. “I think baseball gave him energy. He liked to work. Everything he did with us was about bettering himself.”
Anderson isn’t one to abide laziness and is demanding of his players, particularly his catchers. “In our catching group, which was our own little fraternity, I got to be around Sean often. He let you coach him.”
Former Diamond Jacks coach Rick Clagett learned of the accident Saturday night and called Anderson and Diamond Jacks hitting coordinator Kevin Cust. Both were floored.
“As a coach here for many years, you are around so many kids,” said Anderson. “It’s all about the relationships you have with them. So, a tragedy like this hits us all hard.”
Cust also raised the Kevin Gilbert comparison in his discussion about Hanczaryk. “Sean had the same personality as Gilby,” said Cust. “Why do things like this happen to the best people? Sean didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
Cust tells a story about Sean that sheds a bit more light on his unselfish nature and desire to succeed.
“I’ll never forget the time we were working with Sean during the Christmas break,” said Cust. “I said Sean, what did you get for Christmas? He said, ‘This.’ I said, what? He said, ‘This. The Diamond Nation program.’ That impressed me so much. You could see he understood the value of his time working with us, and his parents’ investment in that. You can see they way the Hanczaryk boys carried themselves here that their upbringing has been outstanding.”
Sean Hanczaryk’s rise from just one of the boys to team leader is truly a reflection of his passion for the game of baseball. He really came into his own his senior season at Delaware Valley. Sean batted .365 with six doubles and five home runs and drove home a school record 33 runs. He was named to the All-Courier News First Team that spring.
By his sophomore season at DeSales, Sean had adjusted well to the next level of play, batting .291 with 30 hits. He was named a team captain as a junior last spring and was batting .324 before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the season.
It was his buddy Hlinka’s RBI record at Del Val that Sean picked off. Hlinka had set the Terriers’ school RBI record as a freshman and broke it again as a sophomore. But Hanczaryk would later top the charts. Hlinka, by the way, is a senior baseball player at Virginia
“I’ve taken Sean to Virginia with me,” says Hlinka. “I’m playing for Sean now. When I heard what happened I went up to our field, kneeled down by home plate and drew his initials in the dirt. I put his number on my gloves, my spikes, wristbands and arm sleeves. I’m extremely saddened but grateful to keep him with me, even though he’s not physically in-person.”
DeSales University is a private Catholic institution with a student population under 2,500. So, it’s not hard to imagine the trauma the small school has absorbed in losing a current student and two recent grads, and seeing the serious injuries to another.
Father James Greenfield, DeSales University President, said, “On behalf of the entire DeSales University community, I share our deepest condolences and prayers for the family and friends of the lives we lost. We also pray for a full recovery for our student who remains hospitalized in critical condition.”
DeSales held a prayer service on Tuesday, a Candlelight Vigil Service on Wednesday at Weiland Baseball Stadium and a Celebration of Life and Memory on Thursday.
Indeed, the mourning for the loss of the three students continues at DeSales, Delaware Valley, Diamond Nation and, of course, with their families.
Sean’s high school buddy, Matt Kolonia, has initiated a Go Fund Me page. To donate, simply go to gofundme.com then type Sean Hanczaryk into the search bar.
In another unexpected twist of fate, DeSales opens its baseball season this weekend against Misericordia University with two home games on Saturday in Center Valley followed by a doubleheader beginning at noon on Sunday at Diamond Nation.
“The Hanczaryks are forever part of the Diamond Nation and Diamond Jacks family,” said Diamond Nation’s general manager Nick Massari. “I know all of our staff and players, even those who never met Sean and Danny, will keep the Hanczaryks in their thoughts and prayers.”
Sean’s spirit will be at Diamond Nation on Sunday for sure, as it will be in Virginia with Hlinka and in the hearts of so many others as DeSales season progresses. Certainly the good memories of Sean will stay with all of us.
“You could go to Sean with anything,” said Hlinka. “He’d listen to you, understand you and you’d leave the conversation with a big smile on your face. He made you forget what you were worried about.”
Anderson provided the last piece of perspective on such a terrible loss.
“I don’t think we know the full impact we have on our players,” he said. “But I don’t think our players realize the impact they have on us. Something tragic like this brings it all home.”
Do Sean Hanczaryk’s memory the honor today of putting a smile on someone else’s face.
Remember to visit gofundme.com and support the Hanczaryk family.